Friday, April 01, 2011

A Part of the Community


A week ago, our elderly neighbor, Mrs. Bohanan died of cancer. She had become very frail, and after she had a bad fall in her home, she went to stay with her family in Atlanta. Craig, the undisputed mayor of our block was in close contact with her family, and after her funeral in Georgia, he coordinated the transfer of her remains back to California, where she and her late husband had a burial plot.

Robb has been very sick with a miserable cold, and I cannot bring myself to attend open-casket viewings, but I took some time off of work to attend Mrs. Bohanan's funeral.

It seemed proper that I, as the newest resident of our block, should pay my respects to the oldest member of our little community. The funeral was tiny. I imagine that Mrs. Bohanan had outlived many of the people she knew in Oakland, and that people may have attended the the viewing instead of the funeral. Nevertheless, there was a real sense of kindness and neighborliness on the sunny morning of her funeral.

For some reason, the night before the service, I decided to look our address up on Google. Goodness knows what prompted this search.

What I found was a poorly researched article from the New York Times, published just after Robb and I bought our little house. The article told the story of a young couple who were one of the bidders on our house, and used their failure in purchasing the house as an illustration of everything that was wrong with the housing market back in 2009.

The author didn't bother to check the public records, and the whole article was a pretty piece of fiction. Here's part of what it said.

It was early last year when Joby Morris, a 33-year-old floral designer in Pacifica, heard about the housing market’s crash. Soon she and her fiancĂ© began dreaming of finally buying a home in the East Bay. But for 18 months, Ms. Morris watched helplessly as time and again, an investor with an all-cash offer and no intention of moving into the property swooped in and snapped up a house she was bidding on.

Last year, she entered a bidding war for a home at (Holy Crap! Our address!) in Oakland. It was listed at $(ridiculously low price); she bid until the price topped $(barely above that price), her real estate agent said. The winning bid was $(what Robb and I paid).

Last month, after the same thing happened a sixth time, Ms. Morris gave up.

“The idea of ownership was a falsehood,” said Ms. Morris, who was planning to finance the purchase with a loan guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration. “It’s not going to happen.”

Ms. Morris and her fiancĂ©, Justin Womack, with a combined income of more than $100,000, are among hundreds of qualified, aspiring homeowners in the Bay Area baffled and frustrated by the difficulties they face, local Realtors say. As Ms. Morris’s Oakland-based real estate agent, Charles Wright, said, “Everyday homeowner occupants are having a serious problem finding anything because there’s such a frenzy out there.”

“It’s happening in Oakland, the East Bay, Alameda County,” Mr. Wright added. At least four of his clients recently bid on homes, only to be outbid by investors.

There are, of course, winners as well as losers in the phenomenon. For existing homeowners, rising prices are not something to mourn. But it is frustrating for someone like Ms. Morris, who is qualified to buy most foreclosed homes at the offering prices.

The phenomenon is familiar to anyone who has watched a market swoon: vulture investing. Private investors have pooled cash and are buying foreclosed homes by the dozens in the Bay Area.

I read this article to Robb, and we were gob-smacked at the inaccuracies, being presented as "fact."

Robb and I were pretty entertained by the idea that we were a couple of "Vulture Investors." Also amusing was the notion that we could possibly have paid cash for this house (we've got a thirty-year mortgage, like everyone else), or the idea that there was some kind of bidding war (Bids for this house were taken on a single day. We submitted one bid, which does not constitute a "bidding war.") We hardly "swooped." We took all of the money that we had saved over years of living frugally and bought a modest little house at market rates.

The house was being sold by the county on behalf of its elderly owner, who was using the money from the sale to pay for her nursing home care. At the time of the sale, we wrote the seller a heart-felt letter about how much we loved her little house, and how we hoped to restore all of its charm, raise a garden and become part of the community.

Robb and I are here to stay. We are committed to our little neighborhood. More than one neighbor has commented on how the old ladies who used to live on the block would have loved to see how we're bringing the garden back to life, and making things flower again.

It feels right, being here. Without making a big fuss, we've become neighbors.


Christine said...

I love how this chick didn't do any research into buying herself a house, yet had the wherewithal to get the nytimes to write an article about her struggles! Sillyness!

Ben said...

I'd like to suggest that you contact the Times and offer a correction. I know it was ages ago, but you've really had a remarkable time of it since you bought that house. Heck, you two are always remarkable, and your house stories are far more interesting for Times readers than the whining of some git who can't get her story straight. Plus, you have the before and after photos to prove that not only do you live there, you love it!

Ben said...

(Sorry, that was me, Kristen, not Ben, though he agrees that a story about how you've been fixing it up, keeping bees, making the garden bountiful, befriending the neighbourhood cats, and addressing decades of neglect is far more interesting than "oh bollocks, the housing market am lame!"

Anonymous said...

you should send your blog address to the reporter at the new york times and ask him to write the story again, but from your perspective:)

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Robb and I have been debating contacting the times. The article is two years old, and the author no longer works there.


Anonymous said...

I say contacting the times and telling them your side of the story is an excellent idea! many, many things have changed in the 2 years of the article. Quite possibly the author of the original story was fired for more gross inaccuracies they wrote in other non-researched stories. I say write it yourself and submit it as a follow up story to what they wrote. people like to have several viewpoints on a story, and the housing "crisis" is not going away anytime soon, so interest in your story still exists...


Rabid Quilter said...

What a lovely (and funny) post! My take on the article you quoted is that some columnists must have to invent 'facts' sometimes to make deadline. We so enjoy reading about the hard work, diligence and love you put into your adorable home. Surely the house and garden love you as much as you love it.


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